Jazz Journalists Association honors bearers of mother-daughter culture in New Orleans
Two New Orleans residents will receive Jazz Hero awards from the Jazz Journalists Association (JJA). The awards, given annually based on nominations from community members, are presented in conjunction with the annual JJA Jazz Awards honoring significant achievements in jazz music and journalism.
Herreast Harrison, a distinguished matriarch, artist, educator, actress and voice of New Orleans culture, shares New Orleans JJA Jazz Hero honors this year with her daughter Cherice Harrison-Nelson, whose career as an artist of memory embodies the values passed down from his mother and father, Donald Harrison, Sr. (1933–1998), Grand Chief of the Guardians of the Flame Tribe of the Black Masking Indians.
The JJA website featured the following, written by Jason Berry, a New Orleans-based journalist and filmmaker who named Harrison and Harrison-Nelson:
In the vast courtyard of the Harrison family’s Ninth Ward house stands the Guardian Institutea museum in honor of Herreast’s late husband, founder of Keepers of the Flame, a Black Masking Indian tribe he led for years – wearing costumes of billowing feathers, plumes and beaded patches representing ancestral memory, all images influenced by his wife’s critical eye. A fifth-generation quilter who imbued beadwork symbols and designs into his works, Herreast traveled extensively giving workshops and lectures on this quintessentially African-American art form in schools, colleges and foreign countries.
She has long been an educator. For many years, Herreast ran a preschool with Donald’s help, and together they raised four children, impressing them with the importance of reading and art. Through the Guardian Institute Grand Chief Donald Harrison, Senior Book ClubHerreast has distributed over 34,000 new books worth over $400,000 to area children.
Her influence as the wife and soulmate of a notable great conductor extends, of course, to her son, 2022 NEA Jazz Master and 2007 JJA Jazz Hero alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. who is following in his father’s footsteps. , the chief of the black Indians. But more broadly, Herreast is a keeper of the flame of black cultural memory. That she also had notable roles in three films – Rachel is getting married (2008), 9and Annual State of the Black Union: Innovate (2009) and Zero Troop (2019) – talks about its multidimensionality. She is, personally, a model of heroic resilience.
Cherice Nelson-Harrison greatly expanded her family’s narrative beadwork to become a groundbreaking figure in African American carnival wear. Performing with dance, feathers and song to hard-hitting music, she forged new horizons as a woman in the traditionally male-ruled world of the Black Masking Indians.
Creator of installations and performances, Cherise founded the Indian Mardi Gras Hall of Fame, and has coordinated numerous exhibitions and panel discussions centering on the power of African cultural memory in the greater New Orleans area (a turning point in her artistic development came during her Fulbright Fellowship in Ghana, where she was exhibited visual arts traditions and songs sung at funerals by women using narrative beadwork). She has done extensive editorial work on books and publications, and in addition to exhibiting her work (some of which is in the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum collection), she has produced films, audio recordings, and theater productions. In 2016, she received the prestigious American Artist Fellowship; in 2019, she was the lead artist in an exhibit at the Mary C. O’Keefe Center in Mississippi that featured 11 of her handcrafted costumes amidst assemblages, archival photographs, and narrative text.
In Cherice’s statement: “The narrative hold and original creative visual art expressions of my West African ancestry serve to reconnect me, one bead and dot at a time. Beadwork is a laborious obsession. The process and content of my creations guide my life. She considers herself to be the third of five generations who uphold the traditions of black Indians – her son Brian Nelson is a filmmaker and great chief. The Harrisons and Nelsons embody, preserve, and build upon fundamental aspects of New Orleans’ African-American culture that spawned jazz, and much more.
For more information on the Jazz Journalists Association and a full list of Jazz Hero Award winners for 2022, visit here.